Thursday, 26 January 2017

In Which I Await the Wrath of Fellow Feminists

Photo from user GallowBoob (aptly)

When I moved to Brooklyn some years ago, back when Dubya (now the beloved elder statesman!) was sending troops into Iraq again, I was taking the apartment of a friend of a friend of a friend who was moving home to save money (all very New York, thus far). When I came to see the apartment, as I was leaving she asked me if I was going to an anti-war demonstration at the UN later that week. When I said I wasn't, she was actually, literally agape. But it's important, she told me. I, being naturally politically difficult, asked her what was important about this particular demonstration. It just is, she told me like it was self evident. "There will be tons of people there."

And there it was. It was important but because lots of people were going. If lots were going, it was obviously important, and if it was important, lots would go.

I have never been a fan of protesting. Mostly this is because I feel it is used at the drop of the proverbial pussy hat in recent decades. I have what I term protest fatigue. I cannot, genuinely cannot, figure out what the truly important issues are to people anymore. Everything seems to warrant the same level of outrage.

Once upon a time, public demonstration happened rather rarely, and it was always dangerous. Violence at the hands of the police or military or bystanders was a given. If you marched, it was because there literally was no longer any other thing to be done to solve a particular problem - it could not be solved through normal democracy or the exercise of rights. It was a march in a very martial sense, heading to battle, even if you the foot soldier of your cause armed yourself with nothing more than your own words. Think of early labor regulations, women's suffrage, civil rights, the Vietnam War draft. These were moments in history when protest was a last act of desperation for a group that had nothing left to lose. And each group had a specific goal in mind and ideas on how to achieve that goal.

Lest you believe I am glorifying some kind of golden age of protesting, let me make clear: I would not return to times such as these, to an America full of large swathes of people who are unable to make the changes they want to see because of constant, conscious, deliberate dehumanization.

Are there groups of people in America who face systematic discrimination: yes. But I believe, rather unpopularly, that protest no longer holds the power it once held, and it is because it is wielded so often, and often by groups with lots of other recourse to creating change, and, I'm sorry to say it, so often incompetently. It has become difficult to take seriously, and it is even harder to pick out which protest deserves real attention from government.

I didn't march in the Women's March last week, and not just because I wasn't in the US. I wouldn't have marched there either. Here's where I trot out my credentials: I am a feminist, an intersectional one, and I have always been one. But I am also - very unpopularly amongst my fellow feminists - highly critical of feminism. Indeed, I think it is important to be so, and the Women's March in many ways illustrates why.

Intersectional feminism is a philosophy that connects all oppression. We all understand that oppression is about keeping power in the hands of some at the expense of the rest. We all innately understand who the some in power are: men. It is in the skeleton of our very language, a ribbon running through our social interactions and our assumptions about everyone we meet. It's just there, there is no point in debating it (although feel free to engage me in this conversation if you really want). Wresting that power out of the hands of the few and giving it to the many is a hard job, an act of attrition, a labor of devotion that lasts lifetimes and will probably never end completely. And yet feminists continue to chip away at this pointless construct in an attempt to improve lives.

What intersectional feminism isn't is a political party. And since it's not a political party, it doesn't have a political agenda. That might be a surprise to people. But it's true. Feminists, like any group of philosophers, cannot agree exactly on how their philosophy should manifest in real life: what equality is or should be or how it should or can be achieved or even what a feminist act is. Some people believe wearing a hijab can be a feminist act while others believe it never can be. Some feminists are pro-choice and some are pro-life. Some think all sex work is exploitation and some believe it to be empowering. The list goes on and on.

Knowing this, I couldn't help but feel a giant "Whyyyyyyyyyy" forming in my mind upon first hearing about the Women's March. It's slightly facetious. I know why. Women are angry at Trump for his disgusting remarks about women's bodies, his bizarre commentary on his own daughters, his apparent encouragement of sexual assault. The man is clearly a misogynist. It could not be clearer that however many women he employs, he believes them as a group to be inferior to men, items for men to control. It's gross. Women are right to be mad about it! Women want to show their anger. They want to believe other women feel angry. They want a reckoning for this offense, a release valve to vent their spleens. So they come together to demonstrate. So far fine - a social event essentially. But then the organizers predictably trotted out a political agenda, which anyone could see coming a mile away, and which was the cause of my existential dread.

The problem herein lies with the fact that feminism is not a political platform, as stated above. Immediately there were accusations of exclusion, there were criticisms of Linda Sarsour's hijab, etc. And the organizers couldn't - and I mean that literally, they were unable because of the very nature of feminism - settle on a single, focused political point to get their full and formidable weight behind - think of all those millions of people across the world! Instead they had to disburse their influence across many complaints with the Trump administration. All perhaps valid complaints, even, but so many of them at once that they were all drowned in the cacophony. And in the end the biggest takeaway from this historic event was that women are fucking savage sign makers. I mean there were some absolute corkers.

Meanwhile, while everyone has patted themselves on the back for a cracking good march (so many people! It must have been very important!) Trump has merrily signed his name to executive orders cutting funding to interantional NGOs providing women's health services if that includes abortion services, destroying an international trade agreement with plans to destroy others, stopping the hiring of desperately needed federal employees at places like the VA, which serves the nation's soldiers healing the physical and psychic wounds of war and giving them jobs to come to when they leave the service, limiting immigration from countries full of people desperate for the hope that comes with a ticket to America. He has hamstrung the ability of the nation's scientists to disseminate data unmanipulated by political interference. And throughout it all the only commentary about the Women's March from his people is to quibble over how many people were there. Trump is not the type of person to hear criticism and think, "Hm, maybe this needs further thought before I act." He's the type to say, "Fuck 'em."

So yes the march was perhaps a much needed spleen vent. And it perhaps brought a touch of hope to those who felt like the world was ending last week. But it also acted as a handy press distraction for an administration hell bent on doing and undoing as much as possible as quickly as possible before anyone can catch their breath.

So if you want to make real change, if you want not to be marching again in 50 years like the woman in the picture above, you'd better catch yours, quick.

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